Despite tripartisan support for reform, advocates working in the sexual assault space are concerned it could amount to little more than “lip service” without any funding.
Multiple organisations and advocates have now banded together to plead with the Territory’s government not to forget victim-survivors as it prepares the upcoming Budget.
Specifically, they want to see funding allocated to carry out the recommendations proposed by a damning report into sexual assault prevention and response released late last year, which found survivors were retraumatised by their interactions with the system.
Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates said, while it was great to have the intention from all three political leaders, “the fact is, if the government’s not doing the work now to commit the funds … we’re not going to be able to deliver the change the community has demanded”.
“It’s not going to be good enough for there to only be lip service in response to the testimonies of survivors and the decades of frontline experience that have informed this evidence-based report,” she said.
Ms Yates said she was also concerned about the government taking a short term view and focusing too heavily on the COVID-19 response alone.
“We recognise the government is working extremely hard to maintain the health and well-being of individual community members and the economic future of the Territory … but sexual violence is an area where we are hearing calls for action nationally,” she said. “It impacts people and their circles for their whole lives.”
Ms Yates wouldn’t put a figure on how much she’d like to see committed to this space but said she wasn’t yet confident the government understood the amount of money needed.
As an example, Ms Yates cited a recent $15 million commitment made by the Tasmanian Government to pilot multidisciplinary centres to provide victim-survivors with support over two years. She said a similar-sized commitment to do the same would be “appropriate”.
The government has already acted on some of the 24 recommendations contained in the report. For example, affirmative consent laws passed the ACT Legislative Assembly last week.
Earlier this year, the local government committed $3.4 million through the Budget Review to look at recent cases of sexual assaults reported to ACT Policing which never progressed to charge. The purpose of the review was to “identify systemic issues within the justice system”, the government said at the time.
The ACT Government is still working on its formal response to the report and is due to hand it down by the middle of this year. A spokesperson said “all community budget submissions [will be considered] as part of its budget process”.
That consultation process closes on 27 May and the Budget is released on 2 August.
“The response [to the steering committee’s report] will also inform ACT Government considerations in relation to the 2022-23 Budget,” the spokesperson said.
Accepting the report on behalf of the government last year, Acting Chief Minister Yvette Berry described it as “making for hard-reading” and “confronting”.
It found victim-survivors could often be left “re-traumatised” by their engagement with the justice and support system.
“When you hear the stories of victim-survivors, when they open up warts and all, then you see that it’s worse than everyone thinks,” Ms Berry said.
Ms Yates, as the ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner, was joined by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Consultative Committee for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response steering committee; Canberra Rape Crisis Centre; social justice advocate Dianne Lucas AM; Domestic Violence Crisis Service; Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT; Women’s Legal Centre ACT; ADACAS; Advocacy for Inclusion (incorporating People with Disabilities ACT Inc); and YWCA Canberra in calling for funding to be allocated to implement the recommendations contained in last year’s report.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au.